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CentrePort Canada is an economic plan to make Winnipeg an inland trade hub connecting Europe and Asia to the heartland of North America. The city is ideally situated geographically for this role via its centralised road, rail, and air transport facilities and links to the Port of Churchill.
Geographically Manitoba is ideally situated to be a major North American transportation centre, but much has to be done to capitalise on its location. Things may be in the works, however, and this could bode well for the port of Churchill. In a comprehensive article in March 2008, Mia Rabson elaborated on an economic development plan that could eventually result in the creation of thousands of jobs and add nearly $400 million dollars to the province’s economy.
It all centres around the concept of an inland port that could facilitate the movement of goods throughout the continent and ease pressure on the coastal ports. What is required is a confluence of rail, truck, and air facilities combined with easy access to a sea port, features which Manitoba is ideally situated to provide. According to Jim Carr, president of the Business Council of Manitoba, the province’s “geographic location, its highway and rail connections, the Port of Churchill, the large trucking industry here, and the existing levels of trade through the Richardson International Airport, all give the province an advantage over its competitors.” Indeed, the “airport currently sees more freight aircraft come through it every day than any other airport in Canada.” The border crossing at Emerson is “the most cost effective border crossing in Western Canada,” with $13.7 billion worth of goods passing through on trucks in 2006, up 41% since 2000.
All of this is encouraging, but to become the trade hub of Central North America, we have to expand existing facilities to attract even more trade. The national railway system needs to be improved, not only the Trans-Canada, but Highway 75 south to the American border and the Yellowhead Route to Saskatoon and Edmonton. A container shipment hub needs to be built at the Winnipeg airport and linked to rail lines and a new road between the airport and the perimeter highway. The Port of Churchill also requires upgrading to handle container shipments. All of this is going to cost a great deal of money – probably more than a billion dollar, a major hurdle in itself, and we have competitors, too. Ontario, for instance, “is being pushed to consider building a deep sea port in James Bay which would compete with Churchill.” And in the United States, “new interstate highways and billions of dollars being poured into port cities are going to quickly leave Manitoba in the dust.” Obviously, we need to act fast.
According to Barry Rempel, CEO of the Winnipeg Airport Authority, all levels of government in Manitoba are coming on board; in fact, “he has never before seen such a convergence of strategies from all levels of government in Manitoba.” Time will tell if this is just a flash in the pan, or the real thing, but speed is of the essence, if we ever hope to see the dream translated into action. This is a story worth following.
Discussion: What could a major inland port in Winnipeg mean for the economic development in Northern Manitoba? How might it affect The Pas? Wabowden? Thompson? Consider the possibilities.
In March Larry Kusch wrote about plans to build a “bulk handling facility” at the Port of Churchill, so that it could handle “products such as fertilizer and wood pellets in time for the 2009 shipping year.” The preliminary work would be done in 2008 with actual construction occurring in 2009.
This project resulted from the October 2007 announcement that $68 million would be available for improvement to the port and the Hudson Bay Railway linking it to Southern Manitoba. Federal and provincial money was conditional on OmniTRAX’s promise to operate the port for at least the next ten years.
The need for the new facility was underscored by the arrival of a Russian ship in the fall of 2007 with a load of 18,000 500-kilogram bags of nitrogen fertilizer. If the port were to handle this kind of bulk shipment in the future, it needed to make some changes. In addition to the improvements at the port, OmniTRAX planned to improve the Herchmer Subdivision from Gillam to Churchill in the spring of 2008 and to increase the reliability and speed of the line between The Pas and Churchill. It also wanted in improve passenger service. Wheat board shipments were up in 2007, and Omnitrax was aiming at 1,000,000 tonnes in 2008. Within ten years, it hoped to double that amount.
Discussion: The big challenge for OmniTRAX was the age of the HBR and the unstable ground over which its trains has to travel between The Pas and Churchill. Watch for progress reports.
Bill Silver and Robert Ziegler, co-chairs of the Premier’s Economic Advisory Council wrote an enthusiastic article in October on provincial legislation to create an inland port – CentrePort Canada. It will include a “20,000-acre area anchored by the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport” and “the goal is to build it into a centre of export-oriented transportation, manufacturing and warehousing.”
The aim is to make Winnipeg a major transportation centre that will attract manufacturing and distribution facilities to Winnipeg. As Silver and Ziegler point out, CentrePort Canada is a “carefully planned partnership of the private and public section, one that builds on our considerable transportation assets and one thing we have always had in our favour – location, location, location.”
Our location is certainly an asset. Directly south is the Mid-Continent Trade and Transportation Corridor connecting us to the United States and Mexico, west is the Asia-Pacific Gateway via Vancouver, east the St. Lawrence Seaway to Eastern Canadian and international markets via Thunder Bay, and to the north we have “unique access to polar trade routes, both by airplane and via ship through the Port of Churchill.”
Silver and Ziegler note other assets, which give Manitoba the edge
Air travel – Winnipeg’s airport is one of the most reliable in the world, averaging less than two hours of downtime per year. It is one of only a handful of 24-hour unrestricted international airports in Canada and has the largest number of dedicated cargo handlers in the country.
Rail travel – Winnipeg is the only city in western Canada served by three major continental railways: CN, CP and Burlington Northern Santa Fe. We also have the only location between the West Coast and central Ontario where the key liens of CN and CP intersect, with both railways maintaining extensive intermodal yards here.
Marine travel – Manitoba’s Port of Churchill is the only ocean port in the middle of Canada and the closest in Western Canada to Europe. It has rail links to North American markets, and is a more cost-effective route than the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, which have higher navigation, handling and other shipping costs.
Highway travel – In addition to our prime location in the centre of several international transportation corridors, the Emerson Border crossing into the United States is the busiest in Western Canada, ringing up $14.7 billion in trade each year.
Silver and Ziegler had co-chaired the Inland Port Leaders’ Group for five months which brought together business, labour, community leaders, municipal, city, and provincial governments, and they hoped to federal interest after the election had been completed.
CentrePort Canada Inc. has now been established by law, a “private sector-led corporation that will co-ordinate development, attract investment and market the inland port.” Already there has been significant progress. Standard Aero, Greyhound Canada and Canada Post had announced new investment and expansion plans in the area, the airport was in the process of expansion, and the provincial and federal governments had joined forces to improve road access to the area.
Discussion: This venture is really beginning to take shape, and for the first time in decades Churchill has a major place in a provincial economic development plan. Silver and Ziegler noted that “the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has started the Business Call program to tap into local business leaders ideas and contacts for building the port.” Maybe the movers and shakers of Churchill will want to get their ideas on the table as well! Remember that Churchill is the only port in Western Canada, and it’s shorter than the St. Lawrence Seaway. This needs to be better known.
Alexandra Paul reported in December on a new development in the plan to move CentrePort Canada forward. In the past Winnipeg had not been on the list of Canadian cities designated to receive direct cargo flights out of Europe; instead, cargo had to be rerouted from one of those listed cities, which lengthened the time of delivery and added to the overall cost. Now there is an open-skies agreement that will mean flights can come directly to Winnipeg, a change that will increase again the advantages our central location already has. It also opens the door to increased passenger travel, because restrictions have been removed there as well.
This agreement was worked out by the federal government with the European Economic Union and announced late in 2008. It removed “restrictions on routes, prices and the number of flights allowed between the two sides,” the aim being to increase the number of direct flights between the two regions. It may also lead to legislation to allow foreign ownership of airlines in Canada, which could bring in more European investors. At present they are limited to 25 per cent ownership, but that could be raised to 49 percent in the near future, if parliament approves the deal.
Discussion: As restrictions are removed, Winnipeg’s competitive advantage should become more evident to European investors, and this should lead to plenty of business opportunities.
Bartley Kives gave a progress report on the current expansion of the Winnipeg International Airport. By late January 2009, the parkade had been completed, the utility work and ground work were nearing completion, and about 35% of the new terminal had been finished. The Winnipeg Airport Authority (WAA) expected the new facility to be ready for a grand opening in 2010. The expansion is being financed by a $20 airport improvement fee charged airline passengers using the port. “Slightly more than 3.57 million passengers passed through the airport in 2008...contributing about $29 million toward the airport’s expansion.” Since the total cost is an estimated $672 million, passengers will “continue to pay for the expansion for decades through future airport improvement fees.” Although there had been a fall in passenger trips since May 2008, due to the world economic recession, the WWA ended the year ahead of where it was in 2007. There were other positive developments as well. Standard Aero was “expanding its regional jet facility north of the existing terminal building,” Canada Post was “building a $50-million mail-sorting plant to the south,” and Greyhound Canada was “erecting a $6.3-million bus terminal to the east.”
Discussion: WAA president Barry Rempel indicated that there has been unexpected passenger growth in recent years, but Kives did not explain why. Considering that 3.57 million passengers are going through the port annually at present, what could happen with the expansion of the airport facilities and direct flights from Europe through Winnipeg? How could this directly benefit Churchill?
Bruce Owen provided a glimpse of things to come, if the federal budget included funding for a new road and cloverleaf connecting Winnipeg’s airport with the west Perimeter Highway. This would greatly enhance accessibility for the international trade that is expected if CentrePort Canada gets off the ground. It would also reduce pressure on truck routes within the city. According to Owen, “the CentrePort project was the only one of its kind in Canada highlighted in the federal budget,” but Ron Lemieux, Manitoba’s Infrastructure and Transportation Minister, said that “no real breakdown of the federal budget” was yet available. Consequently, the provincial government did not know how much money was specifically allocated for CentrePort, even though $4.5 billion in infrastructure funding was coming to Manitoba in 2009 and each of the following five years.
Winnipeg MP Steven Fletcher said in Ottawa that the federal government was “still looking at the road, sewer, bridges and rail upgrades necessary to make it a viable enterprise.” It was also working out the details of “accelerated funding for CentrePort.” The CentrePort plan calls for “the 20,000-acre area northwest of the airport to be turned into a massive trucking and rail depot linked to runways and aircraft coming and going from all over the globe.” There is also talk of “realigning the Canadian Pacific Railway line that runs through the area so it is closer to CentrePort” and building a “north bypass route around Headingley.”
There are hitches, of course. Access to federal funding is limited to a two year time frame, and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz was uncertain about whether this was realistic. Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc, on the other hand, was more optimistic. Presumably because of the recession, he felt the industry would be “hungrier for work than it may have been in the last year or two.”
Discussion: If the airport development takes off, how could that increase Asian and European interest in the Port of Churchill?
CentrePort Canada promises an economic boom for Manitoba and renewed interest in the Port of Churchill, but how can it be pushed forward when a world recession is upon us? According to Martin Cash, current economic realities also represent an opportunity. It is certainly true that hard economic times can make shippers and manufacturers wary about investing in or changing their trade patterns to include Winnipeg, but in uncertain times people are often forced out of their comfort zones to adjust to new situations. Such times can result in big changes.
The idea of Winnipeg taking a lead in developing the Mid-Continent Trade Corridor has been around for more than ten years. In the early years, it was just an idea, but according to Greg Dandewich, director of Destination Winnipeg, “We are far more sophisticated now….All the stars are aligned.” But how can this be? According to Jean-Paul Rodrique, an economics and geography expert from Hofstra University in New York, “global trade volumes are seriously on the decline” and “container traffic peaked in Los Angeles two years ago and now it is falling.” That said, “He also acknowledged that there are innovations constantly being made in transportation and logistics leading to efficiencies and addressing niche markets.” Chris Lorenc, a board member with CentrePort Canada, thinks this makes it a good time to start an inland port.
We are in a situation where we can do an analysis of where the opportunities are going to be, given that the recession is real. We need to be smart about figuring out what is going to happen. What are the emerging trends going to be? What are the containerization and globalization issues going to be when we come out of the recession. Who are players likely to be and if there are facilities that are not going to survive the recession is there a way and means for us to take their place?
Although Dandewich does not speak for CentrePort Canada, he said it is important to audit “Winnipeg’s existing transportation resources –the three rail lines, the 15th busiest cargo airport in the world, the 1,000 tracking firms that operate here – and how they interrelate.” He thinks Winnipeg is already an inland port, but CentrePort Canada needs to make strategic investments to “capitilize on what Winnipeg already has to offer to the transportation and logistics players.”
Discussion: Cash mentioned that there are “hundreds of ocean freighters immobilized off the coast of Singapore because shippers just can’t find enough cargo anymore.” Why would this be useful information for people wanting to expand Arctic trade links between Murmansk and Churchill?
Carol Sanders news article captured front page headlines and rightly so. Any time $212 million is infused into the provincial economy, especially during a recession, Manitobans should sit up and take notice. It all happened on April 14 at the Winnipeg International Airport, when Premier Gary Doer and Prime Minster Stephen Harper announced joint federal-provincial funding to build “CentrePort Canada Way,” a “four-lane, divided expressway” that will “connect Inkster Boulevard, the James A. Richardson International Airport and the CP Weston rail intermodal facility to the Perimeter Highway near Saskatchewan Avenue.” Construction will start in 2010 with a projected completion date in 2011.
This is great news for “CentrePort Canada, a private-sector-led corporation, created by provincial legislation last fall to develop and promote the inland port and build on Manitoba’s infrastructure network of air, rail, trucking and sea routes.”
Prime Minister Harper said that it was all about “building on Winnipeg’s place at the heart of the continent … an ambitious, far-sighted initiative” to create “a massive transport, trade, manufacturing, distribution, warehousing and logistic centre on 20,000 acres of northwest Winnipeg.”
The corridor will spur development of the CentrePort site, and Premier Doer said that the announced funding was an “important statement to all the private investors that are looking at making their down payments on their investment as part of the CentrePort Canada.”
Doer reiterated Winnipeg’s advantages – (1) “centre of the continent,” (2) “the crossroads of the major railways,” (3) “home to hundreds of trucking firms,” and (4) “a 24-hour airport with more cargo moving through it than any other terminal in Western Canada.”
The land northwest of the airport has stood idle for the past two decades, but the public sector needed to act first to create the infrastructure to move development forward. Now the ball is in the business community’s court. It’s a forward-looking venture – “the largest infrastructure program in 50 years,” according to the prime minster, although it will not develop over night. However, “in 20 years from now,” Barry Prentice, Transport Institute at the I. H. Asper School of Business, predicted, “we’ll say, ‘wow.’”
Discussion: Note the reference to “sea routes.” One of them is the St. Lawrence Seaway through Thunder Bay; the other, of course, is the Hudson Bay Route via the Port of Churchill. Which of these is potentially the cheapest route to the world? What steps could the citizens of Churchill take to ensure that its advantages are promoted among the decision-makers for the CentrePort project?
Chief George Kemp, Berens River First Nation, wrote a most interesting letter to the editor of the Press in May 2009. It’s worth quoting in full.
“Now that the vision for Manitoba’s future is taking shape through the CentrePort plan, I offer this three-for-one deal for the vision. How about linking the Bipole transmission line project to the vision and build the line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg. With the savings of well over $400 million for the east side line, build a superhighway down the east side direct from our inland seaport at Churchill to CentrePort in Winnipeg. Build the highway beside the transmission line; if this can’t be done, can someone tell me what I am missing?”
Discussion: What are the arguments in favour of combining projects, as Chief Kemp suggested? What are the arguments against? Chief Kemp envisioned the highway extending north as far as Churchill. However, what if it linked instead with a point along the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR)? Goods would then travel by rail and highway between Winnipeg and Churchill, with transfer of goods occurring at the transhipment centre that developed at the intersection between the two transportation systems. Where would the best spot for that transhipment centre be on the HBR? What factors would need to be considered before deciding on the appropriate site?
In May, the Churchill Gateway Development Corp. (CGDC) organised a Manitoba trade mission to Nunavut that it hoped would be an annual event. One of the reasons for the trip, according to journalist Martin Cash, was the fear that competitors from Quebec might wrest business opportunities from Manitoba in Western Nunavut, which is a region traditionally inclined “to look to Manitoba for shopping, business and travel.” The fear is real. Quebec suppliers were already addressing the chronic housing shortage in the region, a role that Manitoba building contractors could readily assume themselves. Walter Toews, a partner in Steinbach’s Hanover Door Systems, was on the mission and landed a $25,000 order with leads for future follow-up, so the opportunities were there. Darryl Balasko, marketing director of CGDC, was pleased with the mission, which had been designed to “build relationships with Nunavut and strengthen existing ties,” especially with communities like Rankin Inlet, Arviat, and Baker Lake. As population continued to grow in the region and mining development expand, he saw an important role for the Port of Churchill in the resupply side. For instance, “Agnico-Eagle’s Meadow-bank gold mine, 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake [was] a significant presence, and there [was] at least one other gold mine and a uranium mine in development in the region.” This development had been reflected in the amount of cargo going out of Churchill. In 2008, tonnage was up from 7,000 tonnes in 2006 to 17,000 tonnes and expected to go up to 19,000 tonnes in 2010. There was still plenty of room for increases, provided that Manitoba companies did not take the region for granted.
Discussion: Why are trade missions important in business? What do you see as the spinoffs in this trade mission to Nunavut?
This article by Larry Kusch focused on issues connected with electrical service to four remote communities in Northern Manitoba. At present, Lac Brochet, Brochet, Tadoule Lake, and Shamattawa still rely on diesel generated electricity. However, provincial climate-change legislation could change that. Passed about a year ago, this legislation required Manitoba Hydro to come up with a plan to reduce or eliminate altogether its reliance on diesel fuel in these communities. In its report, Hydro looked at alternatives, like “wind power and the construction of a tiny hydro generating station to serve Brochet and Lac Brochet,” but opted for a plan to reduce greenhouse gases by “maximizing the use of biodiesel (in place of diesel fuel) and investigating ways to make the diesel engines more efficient.” It also recommended “continuing discussions with the four communities and Ottawa on ways to supply them with cleaner power.”
Jim Rondeau, provincial Minister of Energy, indicated that he planned “to discuss the various options – including extending the grid – with the federal government.” Apparently, “it was unlikely that any expensive alternative to diesel power would be implemented without Ottawa picking up a large part of the cost.”
Kusch then explained the cost and impact of each of the alternatives. Wind power would cost between $21 to $40 million to install in the four communities and reduce diesel consumption by 20 percent.
A small hydro generating station for Brochet and Lac Brochet would cost $34 to $63 million for a 60-amp service. However, it wouldn’t produce enough power to heat the houses electrically and a diesel generator would still be necessary as backup.
A costlier local hydro generating station ($36 to $68) would produce a 200-amp service in both communities, but the diesel generators would still be necessary in both places as backup.
Extending the hydroelectric power grid to the four communities would cost about $225 million. Ten years ago, nine other communities were connected to the power grid for $154 million, a cost shared by Ottawa, the province, and Manitoba Hydro.
Discussion: Although the claim that hydrocarbons like diesel fuel are the cause of global warming, there is little scientific evidence to support this widely held belief, and temperatures throughout the world in 2009 suggest that the earth is more likely to be cooling for reasons that climatologists don’t yet understand completely. Nevertheless, why is the fear of global warming helpful in this instance to four remote Northern Manitoba communities? Consider the options. What are the pros and cons of wind power? In the long run, which of the two hydro-electrical generating plants would be most cost-effective for the service it provides? What are the pros and cons of extending the power grid? What do you think of the option to use bio-fuels, considering high cost of producing bio-fuel as compared to fossil fuel and the fact that the production of bio-fuels takes land out of food production? Which of the various options would you choose and why?
Boeing is an important airplane manufacturer and its Winnipeg operation has became “the largest industrial composite parts manufacturer in the country,” in part because it “won contracts to design and manufacture a number of parts” for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. However, in June 2009, Boeing announced the fifth delay in its program to develop this airliner, putting it two years behind. This resulted in the cancellation of a $3 billion contract to supply 15 of the new 787 to Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd. This was bad news for Winnipeg’s plant, which followed up by imposing “a four-day work week on about 300 non-unionized staff in the city” and throwing “production rate projections out the window.”
In the mind of Martin Cash, this was a “cautionary tale when it comes to the future resiliency of the Manitoba economy that has performed so well through the current global recession.” It meant that there were “challenges ahead” for the Chamber of Commerce and the business community as they promoted Selling Winnipeg to the World.
Two reports, one by the Conference Board of Canada and the other by the Bank of Montreal, came out in June, and Cash believed that “reading between the lines” in those reports suggested that the province’s “recent moment in the economic sun” would probably not last.
Why? The Conference Board’s report on Western Canada: Productivity, Competitiveness and Potential revealed that all four western provinces trailed “a number of comparable regions on key competitiveness drivers.” Real GDP growth and GDP per-capita growth in Manitoba was unimpressive and, like the other western provinces, was going to have to “improve productivity” and “address labour shortages,” if it hoped to maintain a “strong competitive standing over the long term.”
Canada’s aerospace product manufacturing industry was also in trouble and “the next 12 months will be critical to the long-term success of that industry,” because “commercial aviation demand is slumping.” Although the report focused on Bombardier, Cash still felt it was relevant to Manitoba’s aerospace industry.
“This province represents about six per cent of the sector’s national output and although it is well diversified – commercial and military parts, engine and airframe maintenance, composites and metal parts manufacturing – heavy reliance on large customer orders could make it vulnerable in the long run.”
According to the Bank of Montreal report, as the recession ended, Manitoba’s rank among the top provincial performers would probably end as well, with only a forecast of 1.6 percent growth next year, just ahead of the bottom “micro economies of Nova Scotia and P.E.I.”
Keeping all of this in mind, Cash recommended that the Chamber of Commerce and business community pay attention to labour shortages and productivity issues as well as increase their efforts to promote the economic growth potential of the province.
Discussion: The global recession was not felt in Manitoba to the same degree as elsewhere. Could that create a sense of false security? One of the assumptions of CentrePort Canada is that commercial aviation will continue to expand. It is in a slump now, but could that be short-term fallout from the recession? In the long term, is it likely that commercial aviation will rebound? Consider both sides. Even if the decline is permanent, is Manitoba’s geographic advantage enough to ensure growth in that industry in the future? In marketing the province as a future transportation centre, how would you address some of the concerns that Cash mentioned?
In August  “Two post-secondary school presidents, several company CEOs and some of the busiest public-sector officials in the province” were scheduled to visit Churchill on a “two-day fact-finding mission.” In the opinion of journalist Marvin Cash, this was timely. Although Churchill was small and isolated with only a tiny port facility “inaccessible by road,” there was a possibility that this could soon change, making the upcoming visit all the more important. The trip had been organized by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce to “give participants a first-hand look at the town and the port,” so that they could see “how it fits into the grand provincial development scheme.” Indeed, CentrePort Canada, several of whose board members would be in attendance, was already “developing a strategic plan for the important inland port concept.” This promised to interest federal authorities, as Canada was becoming increasingly concerned about Arctic sovereignty and potential resource development. Global warming had “already added days onto the tight Arctic shipping season,” which made Churchill’s port facilities potentially more valuable.
Jim Carr, CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba said that the council wanted to become involved in developing “a more coherent northern strategy for the province,” which had been sadly neglected in the past. The port was originally designed to export grain, and little thought had been given to imports through that facility. However, imports needed to be front and centre in the future development and enhancement of “the transportation and logistics infrastructure in Churchill and Northern Manitoba.” According to David Fung, a Vancouver-based inland port expert, the provincial government needed to be involved, but “let the private sector drive the CentrePort development.” He noted that a similar venture in Atlantic Canada had foundered because of too much government control. Barry Rempel, CEO of the Winnipeg Airport Authority, added that the world needed the resources of the North and “as the North goes, so goes the opportunities in Winnipeg.” To be successful, CentrePort Canada needed something distinctive, and in Rempel’s view, it had to look North to find it. “The east-west and north-south routes are important,” he said, “but our competitive advantage is to the north.”
Discussion: Why are missions like this one to Churchill important in the initial stages of an economic development plan? What criteria is likely to have determined who was invited to participate? What are the next steps that CentrePort Canada could take to increase public awareness and government interest in the economic potential of Churchill? If you were developing a plan, what would your priorities be once the fact-finding mission had been completed?
The focus of Geoff Kirbyson’s article was a joint federal/Manitoba funding agreement and two pilot projects, one to “enable CentrePort to become Canada’s first foreign trade zone (FTZ) by providing simplified one-stop shipping for businesses interacting with CentrePort” and the other to “raise awareness of policies supporting international trade.”
Although he wasn’t all that clear on how this was to be done, Kirbyson stated that the main objective was to entice overseas companies to ship goods to Manitoba” where they could be “stored without duty costs before being sent to the U.S.” According to Diane Gray, the newly-appointed CEO of CentrePort, ‘If you’re a car manufacturer and bringing in parts from Mexico, the U.S. and Japan to an inland port, you don’t pay duties or taxes until after you assemble the car and it’s shipped for sale in the domestic market.’
CentrePort’s aim is to concentrate “export-oriented manufacturing, warehousing and multi-modal distribution activities around the airport.” Barry Rempel, President and CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority, was pleased with the federal provincial support, noting that “customers have been saying for a long time that we need to be globally competitive in foreign trade zones” and “Canada was the only one of the G20 countries that didn’t have a foreign trade zone like this.”
Bruce Owen is to be commended for drawing the attention of Manitobans to the possibility of “an all-weather road from Manitoba to Nunavut.” The proposed road “would start in Gillam, run through Churchill and up along the Hudson Bay coast to the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Whale Cove, and Rankin Inlet.” In a 2005 study, the estimated cost of construction was $1.2 billion, a figure that would be higher now, but Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak said that the “high cost of transportation and high cost of goods and services” in Nunavut made it “necessary.” Manitoba premier Greg Selinger also indicated his interest in the economic development of the north. Noting that “winter roads just don’t last as long anymore,” because of climate change, he said that “if we’re going to develop the economy, we need the proper infrastructure and a road is a key part of that.”
The road had been under discussion for some years now.
As usual, there were differences of opinions on the value of the road. For some the focus was economic. The isolated northern communities needed a reliable transportation route to bring in food, building materials and other goods as their economies expand. For others, the focus was on the environment. They feared that an all-weather road would increase “human access to fragile wilderness areas.”
In spite of those concerns, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak signed an agreement on Monday, November 8, that called on both their governments to begin consultations on a cost-benefit study. It also called for both governments to co-operate on health services, research on the uses of renewable energy (including technology), the development of joint tourism projects, and collaboration on culture, education and sporting activities.
Discussion: Premier Selinger noted that a major challenge would be getting Ottawa to come onboard with funding. Why might Ottawa be interested in promoting the all-weather road?
The maintenance costs of this proposed all-weather road have been estimated to be $8 to $11 million a year. The estimated yearly cost of running the new human rights museum Winnipeg is about $20 million. Like all estimates, both are probably out by many millions. However, if they are relatively close to reality, where would we be getting the biggest bang for our buck?
Consider this. The building of the railways into Western Canada sparked economic development that is still occurring after a century. What could an all-weather road do for the development of communities in Northern Manitoba and Nunavut?
Environmentalists, most of them from places outside of Northern Manitoba and Nunavut, have worked hard to prevent northern development. Their influence is particularly noticeable in Eastern Manitoba, where they have lobbied against all-weather roads that would bring economic relief to the aboriginal communities in north-eastern Manitoba. They have also used their influence to persuade the Government of Manitoba to build BiPole III on the west side of Lake Manitoba, a proposal that may ironically do more environmental damage. What arguments do you see this lobby group using to prevent the building of an all-weather road to Nunavut?
The Arctic Gateway Summit was held in Winnipeg at the beginning of November 2010 to “hammer out some key elements needed to build a viable global transportation system in the North.” Business writer Martin Cash, who has kept abreast of developments connected with CentrePort Canada, was there to cover the event.
The two-and-a-half-day conference at the University of Winnipeg was sponsored by OmniTRAX, the Denver firm that owns the Hudson Bay Railroad and the Port of Churchill. It was co-hosted by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and University President Lloyd Axworthy, “one of the Port of Churchill’s oldest and staunchest supporters.”
Michael Ogborn, executive vice-president of OmniTRAX Canada viewed the conference as a “critical step toward establishing a viable and sustainable transportation system in the North.” Such a system could involve the expansion of international links via the Arctic Ocean. Axworthy drew attention to the “geographic proximity … of Canada’s north to northern Russia,” which is a major argument for an “Arctic bridge” between the two. This is one key factor in the “future development potential” of CentrePort Canada, which could benefit from shorter shipping times along northern routes to Asia. Michael Ogborn underscored this point by noting that “the route from Murmansk, Russia, to Churchill is 1,447 nautical miles shorter than to Pacific ports and can cut five days off shipping times.” Considering that current transportation costs are $40,000 a day, this becomes a considerable savings.
There was a “sizable delegation from Russia, including Denis Pashkov, minister of industry and energy of the large central Russian region of Krasnoyarsk Krai.” He emphasized the need for transportation corridors and that Russia wanted to co-operate with others in this area, “not necessarily in mineral and resource development, but in mutually developing both these regions.”
Discussion: There is considerable international fear of Russian interest in the Arctic. Why are the circumpolar nations worried about that interest?
How might the United States react to an expansion of international trade routes between Russia and North America?
One of the assumptions behind the current interest in the Arctic is the widespread belief that the Arctic Ocean is going to be ice-free. How would the proposed Arctic transportation routes be affected, if that doesn’t happen?
Last updated : February 17, 2011